Catholic universities forced to cover abortions

State reverses decision, mandating Santa Clara, Loyola Marymount to alter health care plans

by Brian Fraga, OSV Newsweekly

Two Jesuit universities in California are being forced to cover elective abortions in their employee health insurance plan because the state government considers abortion to be a “basic health care service” that by law requires coverage.

Bowing to political pressure from Planned Parenthood and its allies, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration reversed an earlier decision to allow Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara universities to exclude abortion coverage. The California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) now says that a 1975 state law requires all managed health care plans to cover abortion, while opponents counter that the policy actually violates federal law.

“If DMHC does not reverse its decision, we are prepared to file complaints with the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Health and Human Services,” said Matthew Bowman, senior legal counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian public interest law firm.

Last month, the universities were notified by their respective health insurers that the DMHC had determined that their abortion-free health insurance plans contained language that discriminated against women and violated state law that guarantees access to abortion.

“All health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” Michelle Rouillard, director of the Department of Managed Health Care, wrote in her Aug. 22 letters to Anthem Blue Cross of California and the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan.

Rouillard’s notice contradicted an earlier DMHC ruling last fall that said the universities’ health plans were permitted under state law. Officials at both universities had said that Catholic moral principles had moved them to eliminate elective abortions from their employee health insurance plans.

Schools’ reaction

Double Standard
California’s own health care plans for state employees do not cover the elective abortions recently mandated to two Catholic universities by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, according to a Sept. 3 report by the Cardinal Newman Society. Loyola Marymount and Santa Clara universities are being forced to cover abortions that are not “medically necessary,” according to a letter to health insurers by Michelle Rouillard, director of the state’s Department of Managed Health Care.

The universities’ new health plans drew protests from dozens of faculty members who noted that the Jesuit institutions had marketed themselves as being open to people of different faith backgrounds and points of view. After consulting with faculty members and taking into account several different opinions, Loyola Marymount University later allowed employees to obtain abortion coverage by paying a private administrator.

“We thought we had a solution worked out that was a satisfactory resolution to the dilemma. Now we have learned that it wasn’t,” said Peter M. Warren, a spokesman for Loyola Marymount University. 

Santa Clara University did not return a message seeking comment. Msgr. Francis V. Cilia, vicar general of the Diocese of San Jose, California, where Santa Clara is located, told Our Sunday Visitor: “We trust the university and know that they are proceeding in the best possible way.”

Meanwhile, Warren told OSV that Loyola Marymount will follow the law just as it obeys the state’s anti-discriminatory statutes related to hiring.

“It’s a complex issue for us,” Warren said. “Obviously, elective abortions are inconsistent with Catholic teaching, and as a Jesuit-sponsored university, we seek to be consistent. But we are an educational institution — a nonprofit educational institution — and that is our status under law. We don’t exclude non-Catholic students, faculty or staff. As an institution of higher learning, we feel the right course for Loyola Marymount University is to move forward and focus our resources on our primary interest of educating students.”

Critics speak out

Several Catholic and pro-life leaders across state and the country have criticized the policy as unjust, and they are calling for legal challenges to overturn the mandatory abortion coverage.

Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, a nationwide Catholic pro-life organization, said the law “cannot stand.”

“This is an injustice that cannot be allowed to go forth,” said Brown, who told OSV she hoped that the state’s Catholic bishops and the universities’ presidents would stand up against the law. “If everyone rolls over and plays dead and the bishops don’t rise up with the presidents of the universities, then of course it’s going to take effect,” Brown said.

Ned Dolejsi, executive director of the California Catholic Conference, told OSV that the state’s bishops are assessing the policy, which Dolejsi said “caught everyone off guard.”

“Obviously, we’re disappointed and frustrated with the reversal of the Department of Managed Health Care’s initial decision,” Dolejsi said. “The fact that they would succumb to political pressure exerted by Planned Parenthood is very disappointing. It’s frustrating because we firmly believe that abortion is not health care; it’s an assault on human life, but the prevailing attitude and political culture in California doesn’t support our view of that.”

Legal battles

In an Aug. 22 letter to Rouillard, Alliance Defending Freedom and the Life Legal Defense Foundation countered that her decision violates federal law and argued that the state cannot mandate that an insurance plan include abortion coverage without forfeiting federal funds. The letter also argues that the policy violates the 2005 Weldon Amendment, which allows the federal government to withhold funding from any entity that discriminates against doctors, hospitals or health plans that choose not to offer or cover abortion services. 

“When Congress passed the Weldon Amendment, it sought to ensure that the government could never strong-arm pro-life employers into paying for abortion coverage. Therefore, California’s decision is illegal. No state can ignore federal law in a pursuit to conform everyone to the state’s own ideology on abortion,” said the ADF’s Bowman.

The letter, which was sent on behalf of the Cardinal Newman Society, also warns that the DMHC action could “trigger loss of funding to the entire state and departments.” In its failed 2006 lawsuit against the Weldon Amendment, the California state government admitted that all of its departments were subject to the amendment due to some of those departments receiving more than $40 billion in federal funds.

Despite “virtually unrestricted access” to abortion for girls and women in California, Planned Parenthood and its allies are trying to force their view on Catholic institutions, according to a statement by the California Catholic Conference, which noted that the Affordable Care Act of 2010 mandates that at least one plan be available in each state that excludes most abortion coverage.

“It’s particularly frustrating to view the ideology that drives all this. And that is what it is, an ideological position,” Dolejsi said. “Abortion proponents would be hard-pressed to demonstrate that, in California, there is any problem with access to abortion. It’s a sad and frustrating thing for us as Catholics as we are a vital part of society, and we should be able to provide health coverage to our employees without violating our conscience.”

Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.

This article comes to you from OSV Newsweekly (Our Sunday Visitor) courtesy of your parish or diocese.

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